With the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, an unseemly blame game surrounding last week’s attack outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport has begun.
According to Tory MPs and U.K. government officials, the Pentagon is attempting to point a finger at the U.K., alleging that British troops kept the airport’s Abbey Gate open for U.K. citizens, slowing efforts to clear the area.
They’re disputing the details of a recent Politico report, which detailed the Pentagon’s preparations ahead of the August 26 suicide-bomb attack. According to the piece, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had warned top commanders of an imminent “mass casualty event,” and the Pentagon crafted a plan to clear Abbey Gate on Thursday afternoon.
But according to Politico’s reporting, which is based on notes from the Defense Department’s discussions on the matter, defense officials kept the area open longer to allow U.K. forces to continue their evacuation, which London accelerated ahead of Washington’s August 31 deadline. The attack perpetrated later that day by an ISIS affiliate killed 13 U.S. service members, two U.K. citizens, and over 150 Afghans.
British officials, however, dispute that framing of events, telling the Guardian that the move to keep Abbey Gate open was a “joint decision” and that both sides acknowledged the inherent risks of doing so.
A U.K. government official also told LBC, “The U.S. is having to explain the total mess that has been the evacuation. There’s clearly some hard briefing going on.”
In addition to the British government, members of Parliament are pushing back against the apparent leak to Politico.
“President Biden was responsible for those decisions which, I believe, were critical in the course of the events that we’ve seen unfolding,” Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP, told LBC.
“I do think now to attempt to try and brief against the UK on the suicide bombing is reprehensible really, because, you know, if the American government or the American military were very serious about shutting the gates, they would have shut the gates,” he continued.
LBC noted that another Tory MP, Tobias Ellwood, called the dispute “an unhelpful blame game” that has resulted from the U.S.-U.K. effort reaching a “low ebb.”
As the situation in Afghanistan started to deteriorate earlier this month, reports described troubled coordination between Washington and London. Most prominent among these was that Biden had failed to return a call to British prime minister Boris Johnson for 36 hours, finally calling him on August 17, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Johnson reportedly pushed back against remarks that Biden had made about the situation in Afghanistan, warning the president against squandering the “gains made in Afghanistan.”
Then, the following day, the House of Commons voted to hold Biden in contempt and condemn the “dishonor” of his handling of the withdrawal. During that debate, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat called Biden’s attempts to disparage Afghan allies of the NATO mission in the country “shameful” in a speech that later went viral. Tugendhat spoke for many of his colleagues.
Although the fundamentals of the U.S.–U.K. relationship remain strong, there’s no pretending that the Afghan-withdrawal debacle didn’t severely strain bilateral ties.
“I think this idea that it was down to the idea that the British were begging them to keep them open, I think is a little bit mean-spirited on them and probably wrong,” Duncan Smith also told LBC about the Politico report.
Not only did the Biden administration, in its efforts to respond to a Taliban takeover it should’ve anticipated, fail to adequately coordinate with U.S. allies; officials are now using strategic leaks to place blame on their British counterparts for the botched response to a heinous terrorist attack.